The God Delusion and Alister E McGrath

Stephen Crittenden: Let’s talk about some of the specific arguments in The God Delusion, that you’ve been refuting. The key idea is Dawkins’ view that the natural sciences lead to atheism, that they make belief in God impossible. You say science leads not to atheism but to agnosticism.

Alister E. McGrath: That’s right. If it leads anywhere; and the point I try to make is actually the natural sciences can be interpreted in an atheist way and certainly Dawkins gives that perspective. But of course there are many, many scientists who are Christians, people like Owen Gingerich, who’s Professor of Astronomy at Harvard, or Francis Collins, who directs the Human Genome Project. And my real concern is that Dawkins seems to be wanting to say that if you’re a real scientist, you cannot be a religious believer for that reason. That there is this fundamental tension between science and faith. And I want to say that the history of the thing just doesn’t back him up on this point.

Stephen Crittenden: Indeed, is that one of the biggest weaknesses in Dawkins’ book, that he doesn’t acknowledge the role of the churches and religious believers in the history of science: the Jesuits in astronomy and seismology, and medicine, for instance; or the fact that the Big Bang theory was first proposed by a Belgian priest. And of course the general public doesn’t know all that much about this history either.

Alister E. McGrath: Well that’s right. I mean Dawkins has this very simplistic idea that science and religion have always been at war with each other, and he says only one can win, and let’s face it, it’s going to be science. But the history just doesn’t take into that place. The history suggests that at times there has been conflict, but at times there has been great synergy between science and religion and many would say that at this moment, there are some very exciting things happening in the dialogue between science and religion. What Dawkins is offering is a very simplistic, slick spin on a very complex phenomenon. It’s one that clearly he expects to appeal to his readers, but the reality is simply not like that at all.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Apologetics, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Theology

3 comments on “The God Delusion and Alister E McGrath

  1. Graham Kings says:

    Stephen Crittenden, in this typescript of the interview, says:
    [blockquote] ‘Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on Theology’. That’s Terry Eagleton in his savage review in the TLS. [/blockquote]

    The article by Terry Eagleton, however, was not in The Times Literary Supplement, but in The London Review of Books (19 Oct 2006) and was republished with permission from the LRB on Fulcrum. It is entitled ‘Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching’ and is worth reading in full on:

  2. CharlesB says:

    I can’t see where Dawkins can get away with the things he says? If you look at a list of famous people who are or were believers (Deists and Christians), it reads like the Who’s Who of human history, science, and politics. It includes practically every world leader, every US president, and about every famous scientist that invented or discovered anything of value. Even those famous persons who eschew belief are usually agnostic and not atheistic.

  3. Craig Goodrich says:

    Graham+ — I admired that metaphor too, since it expresses precisely my feelings reading any statement coming out of our Executive Council (bless their little hearts), or indeed anyone at 815. Many thanks for the link (and for all your fine work at Fulcrum).